Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The grind has hit hard

It has been a struggle to sit down to write with the start of a new year in a new role occupying my time.  I missed last weeks post about educational leadership and I missed this week's open topic post.  This three day weekend will give me a chance to adjust and get back in to a productive cycle.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Checking in on myself

I wrote just before Father's day about my almost two year journey to a healthy lifestyle.  Since that time I have traveled to Washington, D.C., had an epiphany with Twitter, and even admitted to my own technology hoarding.  Last week my district and school started back with students and I was disappointed to say that my pants fit just a bit tighter than they should that first day.

I stepped on the scale and was sad to see that I had put on 10 pounds.  I knew it was going to be up; I have enjoyed summer.   All the fresh fruit, picnics, parties, and BBQ did me in.  It certainly didn't help that I had a sore shoulder that kept me out of the gym.  However all of those excuses are just that; excuses.  I can blame all of those reasons for the weight gain, but it was just me not sticking to the plan.  Since going back to work I am at the gym daily and expect to get back on track quickly.  I still have my goal of losing 25 more pounds by the end of October.  Without a plan, a goal is just a dream.

Color Run

I had a great experience at the Sacramento Color Run that took place on August 3rd.  About 15,000 people participated. If you ever get a chance to do a Color Run, take advantage of it.  While running or walking a 5k route, you get sprayed with a cornstarch color powder every kilometer.  Here is what it looks like as you approach one of the color stations (this happens to be the pink one).

By the end of the race you and your clothing end up looking like this...I think orange was the color that seemed to like me.

Color Run Sacramento 2013

At the end of the race they have a big celebration that happens every 15 minutes.  Each racer gets a packet of colored powder to throw up in the air to celebrate the end of the race.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wi-Fi for All, 5 Things to Consider

I recently read the post on Edudemic, "We Get Wi-Fi With Our Coffee, Why Not Our Schools?" and breathed a sigh of relief.  My district had finally taken the bold necessary step of providing district wide WiFi for students and staff to start this year.

We recently received a QZAB 'grant' that paid for quite a few technology pieces in our districts master technolgoy plan.  Included in that purchase was 910 chromebooks.  The backbone for this project, however, was district wide WiFi.  The Chromebooks required it and we needed to move into the 21st century. Here are 5 things to consider to consider with WiFi:

Get IT specialists involved early
We are lucky enough to consult and work with a local IT company.  They helped us make the connections with manufacturers who then sent engineers out to our sites to get a fully customized WiFi infrastructure. This partnership resulted in a comprehensive system that should cover our needs for at least 10+ years.

What do you want to be able to do?
Because we got IT specialists involved early, we were able to distill the essence of what we were trying to accomplish.  Knowing that we wanted Chromebooks, BYOD, and guest access provided the crucial elements in the decision making process.  I can't tell you how many times I wanted to scream when the question, "what do you want to be able to do?" was asked.  Without it, however, we would have ended up with something we couldn't use or overpay for something we would never use.

Plan for density as well as coverage
Coverage is not enough anymore.  We estimate that we will have 5 devices per person in our district within the next 5 years.  For a district our size, that resulted in almost 15,000 connections for employees and students.  This means we needed density.  Consumer based routers are going to 'melt' under a tenth of that kind of load.  We placed density access points (APs) in key locations where we knew use would be the heaviest.  Our system allows us the flexibility of swapping out APs as our need for density increases for years to come.

Businesses use enterprise level WiFi security.  Schools are businesses; our business is facilitating ensuring student learning. Schools need enterprise level WiFi security.  Don't skimp on security. Without properly secured WiFi, you run the risk of opening your entire network (including confidential information) to anyone who accesses it.

Sticker shock
Boy oh boy did we have sticker shock.  WiFi is not cheap.  Once we were able to apply appropriate education discounts and identify our maximum budget, the manufacturer worked with us to meet our needs. This is an investment in our infrastructure much like a desk, chair, or building is an investment in education. Have a dollar amount in mind and work within it for the best possible solution for you.

Photo credit
WiFi Logo - miniyo73, used under Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Creating and Sustaining Healthy School Culture

Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Anthony Muhammad (@newfrontier21) speak to a group of about 400 educators from Stanislaus County.  Impressively he asked that everyone keep their electronic devices out during the day because “this was the 21st century.”  Uncharacteristically for me I decided to go low-tech and take pen and paper notes because I didn’t want to be self distracted from the conversation of the day.  Some of what follows is what I would have tweeted had I chose to.

The focus of the day was creating healthy school culture.  He preceded the conversation by setting the stage for change.  He asked the audience to explain to a neighbor why we got into education.  Unsurprisingly, yet still enlightening, was the common thread of ethical and moral reasons people shared.  He further emphasized the moral imperative for education by stating, “We don’t manufacture farm equipment; we don’t harvest crops; we don’t manufacture devices.  We develop lives.  When we don’t do something right we have collateral damage.”

Dr. Muhammad spoke to the “hard facts” involved in creating healthy school culture:

Hard Fact #1 - Human beings are complex
Working with people at a school site involves the skills from at least seven different disciplines such as anthropology, history, and political science.

Hard Fact #2 - You can’t hold people accountable for what you haven't made explicit
Be clear and specific with your expectations and then share those expectations with colleagues.  You will probably have to negotiate the expectations for reasonableness.

Hard Fact #3 - A highly frustrated staff is a highly unproductive staff
Dr. Muhammad explained that frustration is the root of a toxic culture.  Frustration can’t be entirely eliminate, but rather, it must be managed.

Hard Fact #4 - Being correct is no substitute for being effective
Far too often we fight to be right rather than fight to be effective.  He added, “Data is not condemnation, data is information.”  Far too often we ignore the data staring us in the face because we have a need to be correct.

I had some favorite quotes from the day that stand on their own:
“Improvement should be the inherent desire regardless of pressure”
“Change is the gateway to improvement”
“Culture eats structure for breakfast”
Invoking Dr. Martin Luther King, “What is the first thing that has to be done when the lights are turned off; acknowledge that the lights are turned off.”
“It doesn't take a great leader to identify proficiency”
“Support must precede accountability.  Support without accountability ends up as an entitlement.”
“Human beings will improve education”
“Adult drama equals a waste of talent and resources”
“You are hurting the lives of children when you focus on being a drama queen or a drama king.”
“It’s easy to look out a window and identify what is right and wrong; the difficulty is looking in the mirror and doing the same thing.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

5 Principal Commitments for the New Year

Google definition

As a new principal, I have plenty to be nervous about for this coming school year.  I learned early on in my musical career that nervous energy is powerful once you harness it and direct the energy in the right way.  Having a clear vision and plan is key to harnessing that energy.  Here are 5 commitments I am making to my school this coming school year.

  1. 900 Lessons - Based on Kim Marshall's article, I am committing to observing/visiting at least 900 different lessons/classrooms this year.  At 180 school days, that will be 5 lessons/classrooms a day.  It is the only way I will learn what is going on in the classrooms at my site and the only way I will observe what students are learning.

  2. 24 rule for new ideas - On my recent flight back from Washington, D.C., I caught Daniel Pink on the Jeff Probst show.   He presented the idea that you should wait 24 seconds before you to criticize any new idea.  Some of the best ideas are quickly shot down because they haven't been thought through. Committing to at least 24 seconds.

  3. PLC - We ask our teachers to collaborate with their colleagues, why shouldn't principals?  I commit to work and collaborate with other principals either through my PLN (twitter, Google+, etc.) or and with my fellow Salida principals regularly.   

  4. Healthy Lifestyle - If you've read here before, you know that I have lost quite a bit of weight over the last two years with still some more to go.  What it did for my life was extraordinary.  I commit to encouraging all kids (and adults if they want to join in) to be physically active for 30 minutes each day. Also part of this will be to encourage healthy eating habits whether it be through portion control or healthy choices.  Thankfully our school and district has an established history with healthy eating.  (UPDATE:  Thanks to John Patterson for the video link)

  5. Principal Practice - Teachers never have enough time to go see their colleagues teach.  Each week I will provide 30 minutes to a teacher to go see their colleagues teach while I dust of my teaching skills and do what I do best; teach music, to their class.  I plan on implementing the same strategies and practices that we will be asking the teachers to implement.  The teacher can go see a colleague or watch me and provide me with feedback.  The goal here is to promote conversations and collaboration about teaching practice.  Credit to my middle school colleague who inspired the idea.
What are you committing to this next year for your school site?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Now I get it! Twitter as a Learning Diversion

I recently mentioned Twitter as part of my Technology Hoard.  I said,
I will admit I have not figured out a way to use twitter on a day to day basis, yet.  When I am at a conference, it is indispensable.  I check it somewhat regularly and post my Nike+ running to it.  I see lots of potential, I just need to dwell on it more and find the place for it in my life.
Since I wrote that, I have been making a conscious effort to try and make it a part of my daily routine.  I participated in #caedchat this past Sunday and quickly was overwhelmed by the amount of tweets going on regarding paperless schools.  It took every ounce of concentration to keep up with the conversation let alone attempt to participate.  My main contribution was,
To be honest I was quite disappointed at the initial response (seemed like none).  Later that night I had 4 or 5 people favorite it and follow me.  My disappointment lessened and my interest was peaked.

Fast forward to today.  I had some conversations about my district's recent Chromebook purchases and subsequent pictures posted by me showing the goods.  Later in the morning, I posted the following to try and figure out how to manage something like #caedchat,

I almost gave up on Twitter it for the day, and then saw this gem from the wonderfully talented Diane Main,
I let her know how cool I thought her Vizify was and she responded back!  She made another tweet and I learned more about The Hardy-Weinberg Principle then I ever even knew existed (let alone THAT it existed).

I was about to go home and checked my feed one last time before shutting down the computer and saw some chatter about "some report" called the Horizon Report (Do yourself a favor and read this report, it is AWESOME).  I stuck around and over the next hour the Twitter epiphany hit me!  The  moderators did a great job involving everyone that seemed to be monitoring #NMCk12.  I felt good about staying up with the conversation and contributing in a meaningful way.  The end result was a diversion that ended up being a great learning experience on many levels!

Now I get it. Participate meaningfully and the meaningful interactions will come.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Confessions of a Technology Hoarder

I am a technology hoarder.  Not only do I hoard the physical stuff, but I also hoard the services, software, and tools of technology.  I imagine I am not alone in this 'affliction.'  In this summer of inventorying my life (health goals, "principalness"), technology services, software, and tools are my next target.

Hoarding 101
Hoarding is a serious condition and I mean no
disrespect with this article or the use of the picture

We have a finite amount of time and some things need to be taken off the plate in order to put other things on the plate.  I recognize that it is OK to let things go that aren't working for you or are working against you.  I also recognize that you can't do everything.

Here is the system I used to organize my technology hoard.  As they often do on the TV show, I have categorized items into virtual boxes to help me decide what to do with something with the qualifying criteria listed below.

Throw Away
Love it
Use it everyday
Time saver
So-so on it
Inconsistent/Occasional use
Not sure I need it
Time neutral
Don’t like it
Never use it
No use for me
Time waster


Lastpass - One of my favorite tools for security that I use everyday and would be dead in the water with out it.  All of my passwords for my technology hoard are unique and look similar to this; lZF*oK9bhpgy6klc.  I just remember my very long and "memorable to me" password and the rest is automatic.  It ends up being an inventory list of everything I use or have used on the web.  It is also a great place to securely store important documents such as SSN, birth certificates, and credit card numbers to name a few. 

Evernote - I hate paper and scan everything into Evernote to help me avoid it.  I read Jamie Todd Rubin's excellent blog about going paperless.  I also keep all of my personal notes, thoughts, and plans here.  Easily searchable across all of my devices.

Google - Google is a big entity and owns alot of internet property.  You need a seperate Google virtual hoard box to go through all of the products it offers.  My Keeps are Google+, Drive (Docs side of things), and Gmail.  Everything else is probably Sell/Dontate at this point.

Cloud Storage - As with the Google category, this one is deserving of its own virtual hoard box.  I have accounts with iCloudDropBox, Skydrive, Drive, and Box.  Far too many to keep straight and I have recently consolidated all my files on the Box account.  The primary reason I went with Box was storage; I have 50GB of storage for free on the Box account.  I have also started using Flickr again to store and share photos primarily because of the 1TB of storage for free.

UPDATE:  I wrote most of this on Sunday the 7th, however I just read Jamie Todd Rubin's outstanding post yesterday about his Paperless Cloud and will rethink my Box usage and may rethink Google Drive again.  I also use iTunes Match which has been fantastic for my music library.

Crashplan - Crashplan is a backup utility that allows you to automatically backup your system with unlimited storage.  I currently have over 300GB of files, pictures, and videos backed up in the cloud.  The cost of all of this is $60 a year and I consider this cheap insurance for all of my digital valuables.  The service is fast and reliable.  They also automate backup to an external drive so that you have a local backup of your files if your internet connection goes down.

Others - 7-zipNest, Roku, Pandora, Feedly, iOS (have 7 devices in the house but I don't use a Mac), Lifehacker


Microsoft Office - I love the new Office 2013 (local version, not cloud based).  However I am not sure I want to pay to own a personal copy when I can use Google Docs to accomplish 99% of the things I do with the suite.

TrueCrypt - The best on the fly encryption around.  It is also free.  Not for the faint of heart however.  If you encrypt a drive or a file with this and forget the password, you are toast.  I use it occasionally when I need to send or store something encrypted.

Twitter - I will admit I have not figured out a way to use twitter on a day to day basis, yet.  When I am at a conference, it is indispensable.  I check it somewhat regularly and post my Nike+ running to it.  I see lots of potential, I just need to dwell on it more and find the place for it in my life.

Facebook - Use it primarily to share personal stuff with family and friends.  I have debated whether to prune my friends list down to just those that I have an ongoing friendship and/or relationship with.  At this point, I have just decided to appropriately share items with the right people through lists.

Others - IFTTT, Skype

Throw Away

Instagram - have tried it, but just don't care for it and don't see the point.  My kids are surprised to see the app on my phone.  I haven't used it in probably 2 years.  I go to the default app most of the time and import into Camera+ if I want to do some cool effects on the picture.  This might be the case of me getting too old for the technology.

Pinterest - what I have seen I like.  It also appears to be a good way to share resources with others.  This is a "I can't do everything" throw away.

AppleTV - I test drove AppleTV for our district when we were considering teacher devices and was very impressed with the easy of use and the high integration with iOS devices.  Unfortunately, Apple doesn't seem to want to commit to the device and is slow to update or add content.  The Roku is more open and is a superior device in my opinion (but lacks device integration with iOS).

Prezi - I read and hear all the buzz about Prezi.  I am definitely impressed with the product and don't mean to say anything bad about it.  Unfortunately, I have tried and tried to create a presentation using it and always end up defaulting back to the standards (Powerpoint and/or Google Presentation).
Others - Animoto, World of Warcraft (total time sink and I should, but I won't), Foursquare, MindMeister, Path

Hoard sharing

Do you have anything in your hoard that are Keep, Sell/Donate, or Throw Away that you can share?  Do you have a compelling argument for/against any of the items I have written about?  Post below in the comments. 

Photo - Hoarding for Dummies, Wes Peck

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

910 Chromebooks

My district recently purchased 910 Chromebooks (26 class sets of 35) for students in third through eighth grade at our four schools.  This is a fundamental shift for the district in student use of technology.  Previously, we operated with a computer lab model where students came to the lab and worked on projects.  This shift to portable labs will allow students more contact time with technology and allow teachers to doing things differently.  The Chromebook provides a cost effective way to put more technology in the hands of students and allow them to create and collaborate.

Why Chromebooks?

At the end of the 2012-13 school year, we had a technology showcase to get the input from teachers regarding future purchases.  Technology was grouped into two categories; teacher devices and student devices.  We asked teachers to look at the devices through the lens of a few different guiding questions (you can look at the document here).  We asked the teachers to do a paper out the door ranking of the devices and followed up with a Google Forms survey (copy of survey).  The data was very informative,

(1-5 scale, 1-very little, 5-a lot)
Samsung Tablet
Used by students
Training of teachers
Change from teacher
Excited about this device

One factor was the ability of students to create with the devices.  While iPads are great devices for consuming, they are not ideal for creating.  The final factor was cost.  The Chromebook's cost ($249) combined with the free Google Apps for Education along with centralized management ($30) and free cloud storage make it a very cost effective solution.

We are also very excited about what our students will be able to do when they have the devices in their hands.  Having had a demo unit in our house since May, I can attest that it was the right device.  My middle daughter has adopted it as her computer and uses it extensively to write.  She loves it so much I am going to reimburse the district for the computer and let her have it.

Setup and training

While we have not received the devices yet, I will be researching resources to assist in the setup and will be posting my experience when that occurs.

If you have any thoughts, resources, or experiences to share, please do.  I certainly don't want to reinvent the wheel!

Photo:  Stock photo from Samsung website (here)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Vacation, Planning, and an Apple Settlement

Family Vacation

Having been on a family vacation the past week or so, I have found it difficult to find time to write or plan for the blog.  Our family had some vacation firsts.  The kids flew on a plan for the first time and the five of us survived living in a small hotel room for 5 days.

I had a very moving experience during the trip.  I had promised myself that I would jog the National Mall to some extent and had mapped out a planned run that would take me out to the Lincoln memorial.  I woke up at 6:30 am and started on my journey.  Having walked over 10 miles the previous 2 days, I took my time.  When I got to the memorial, I found myself the only person there.


I was able to take the above panorama without anyone else around.  It seemed like forever, but was probably more like 5 minutes before anyone else showed up.  I was moved by the grandeur of the monument.   I moved out to the steps and looked out to the Washington monument and the Capital building in the distance.
Throughout the week, I was continuously amazed at the purposeful planning and collaboration that had occurred to make all of these structures work together seamlessly.


I had some time to plan out a schedule that I will try and follow for the blog.  I plan on posting on Wednesdays under the following schedule each month.

Education Technology
Personal Growth
Educational Leadership
Open Topic

Apple Class Action Settlement

I received an interesting email this past weekend regarding a class action settlement that I may be a part of.  The gist of it was that if your child made an unauthorized in-app purchase on a qualified app, you could be eligible for a $5 credit or a refund of the amount hat was charged to you.  Sure enough I recalled that Lauren had bought some coins for some animal game a couple of years ago without our permission.  The process to submit for the credit is easy and took me 5 minutes to complete.  You can find out more information here,

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Leadership Baseline Data

I start as a new Principal in a few months and wanted to get some baseline data of myself so that I had something to compare.  No, there isn't a test I can take that would make it easy to score and have results.

Baseline and Meridian

I did find a very effective way to create some baseline data for myself to reflect on and develop goals and outcomes; rubrics.  In this day of multiple choice tests, we often forget about rubrics.  They are an effective way to evaluate how well someone is doing, articulate where someone is, and identify where someone needs to go.  They are useful in all aspects of education.  Finding the right rubric for myself as a principal ended up being much easier than I thought it would.

The Marshall Memo is some of the best money our district spent in regards to improving educational practice.  For $50 a year (cheaper per person if you buy for more), you get Kim Marshall going through 64 education journals and periodicals.  He then sends you weekly summaries of 5-10 articles from them to your email inbox.  Topics always seem to be related to what my district is working on or discussing.  He is also an author and has contributed to the greater research on education.  Kim has taken all of his research and complied a very comprehensive evaluation rubric for Principals.

I completed the rubric (along with my fellow Principals) to serve as my baseline data as I develop goals for myself this year.  Since this is my first go at a Principal, I did not have some of the necessary experience or frames of reference to accurately evaluate myself in some areas.  In those cases, I tended to go with a 2 ranking because I didn't think I was awful, but also wanted room for improvement.  For the sake of tracking I created a spreadsheet in Google Apps to make it easier to calculate.

My overall rankings (4 point scale with 4 being highest) were,
  • Strategy - 2.0
  • First Things First - 1.8
  • Curriculum and Data - 2.3
  • Talent Development - 1.7
  • Culture - 1.8
  • Management - 2.1
Since this is a self evaluation, I am probably harder on myself than others would be and I am probably not in alignment with my fellow principals, YET.  However, the results didn't surprise me.  The areas I personally feel need work ended up scoring low and the areas I excel scored higher.  My personal goals will end up being centered around Culture and First Things First.  The reason I didn't focus on Talent Development has more to do with our district's current financial situation than my lack of ability to develop talent (I certainly won't ignore it though).  The rubric descriptions provide a very clear vision of what I should be achieving.

This particular rubric is great for long term goal planning, but not really good for day to day evaluation.  Again, Kim Marshall provides a great tool; Nine Hundred Lessons.  This tool is great and can be adapted to just about anything.  The basic premise is rating whatever you are evaluating or self evaluating on "a 4-3-2-1 scale, 4 being master-teacher level performance, 3 being solid professional practice, 2 mediocre, 1 unsatisfactory."  I plan to develop a daily Google Form where I enter my own rating as a principal on a day to day basis.  Simple to do and simple to track.

Baseline and Meridian - by Chuck Coker

Friday, June 14, 2013

Father's day gift

My personal focus for almost 2 years has been my health.    Being a "techie," I do a lot (ALOT) of sitting at a desk.  I love to snack and my snack of choice is any kind of cracker.  In 2011, I looked like this at the annual family summer gathering,

IMG_0747 IMG_0475

I never really saw myself this way, but when I saw these pictures, I asked myself, "do I really look like that?" It took me a couple of months but I finally started on my path to fitness and health.

People often ask me what I did to lose the weight and I laugh and say, "I ate less and exercised more."  I approached my weight loss with the mantra, I can eat anything I want, just not everything I want.

The changes in my body have been amazing to say the least.  I have lost,

  • 65 pounds
  • 8 inches from my chest
  • 9 inches from my belly
  • 6 in from my waist
  • 3 inches from my neck
  • 10 pant sizes (from 46 to 36)

I have been on a plateau for quite some time, so I started with a personal trainer (a former student of mine) back in January.  Most recently I have started running more to shake things up.  All of that has helped, but ultimately it is about eating.  My doctor told me, "you can't out exercise your diet."  She is absolutely right, when I am eating less, the weight comes off.

I have a goal of losing 25 more pounds by my two year anniversary of starting this path (October 2013).

This Father's day I will be running in my first "sponsored" 5k run.  It is my gift to myself.  I suppose all that really means is I am paying to do something I have been working on for the last 3 months.  I am looking forward to the event and already signed up for the Color Run in Sacramento this August.

The person from 2011 doesn't exist anymore; at least from the outside.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Welcome to one of my endless attempts at having a "blog."  Being a new Principal at an elementary school starting this next school year will probably give me lots of material that I can use as a foundation to build upon.

My initial approach will be to focus on one of four things every week in a rotation.
  • Education
  • Education Technology
  • Educational Leadership
  • Personal Growth
That's my best guess at this point and we will see how well I can keep up the pace.